January: Losing What Little They Have
With nearly a million people living in a confined space and using open cooking areas, the danger of a fire disaster in the world's largest refugee camp in Bangladesh is high. This was the second time in a year that a major fire broke out. Countless Rohingya families, who are forced to live here after their expulsion from Myanmar, lost what little they had due to the fire. The "fire fighters" trained by local Helvetas staff – volunteers from the camp and surrounding villages – work to bring fires under control and provide survival aid. The affected families receive clothes, blankets and sleeping mats. And a new roof over their heads as quickly as possible.
February: Far from Home
These three young women spent the previous night in their home near the Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv, but now they are refugees in a foreign country. In Palanca, a Moldovan border town, Helvetas employee Liuba Mirsa leads them to one of the heated tents provided by Deza. Here, after the long journey, Viktoria Sgerya can nurse her daughter Alisa and change her diaper. Liuba also fled Ukraine with her children; she now works for Helvetas in Palanca as a coordinator to provide hundreds of thousands of exhausted refugees with basic necessities. For little Alisa, her stay in Palanca is only a brief respite on the arduous journey to her new life. Soon she and her family will be on a bus to Bucharest. It remains to be seen when she will see her homeland again.
March: Now I’ll Speak!
United forces are still needed to ensure that women and men enjoy the same rights. International Women's Day on March 8 is a reminder of this. Around the world, women are still severely underrepresented, especially in political office. In Bangladesh, it is difficult to impossible for women to participate as citizens in democratic processes and political debates. But there is no sign of this social exclusion when Shushanna Rani courageously raises her voice at a meeting with local political leaders in Dinajpur. Shushanna is a member of the Aparajita Forum, which is supported by Helvetas on behalf of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Here, women interested in politics empower themselves to stand up for their concerns at the community level. Men who actively support this development are also involved – and they don't mind standing in the background.
April: Astronomical Prices
Casually buying a loaf of bread at the market stall is not an option for most people in Beirut. Once called the "Switzerland of the Middle East," Lebanon is now on the brink of economic collapse. The situation, which has been precarious for years, has become even worse following the explosion at Beirut's port in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the crisis, the population paid the equivalent of one U.S. dollar for pita bread; today it’s nine times more. Climate change, the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine remind us how vulnerable our food system is. Millions of people are in need because of rising food prices. In order to feed everyone sufficiently and healthily, agriculture must once again become more small-scale and diverse. This is precisely what Helvetas is promoting in Beirut, too, by helping farming families to switch to sustainable and local production.
May: Learning is Fun
If only school could always be this much fun! In Antanabe in northern Madagascar, children learn about hygiene and health through playful exercises. In their elementary school, clean water has recently started flowing from the taps, and now there is a lot to ask and learn. Why does dirty water make people sick? How can we wash our hands effectively? Why is clean water so precious? How do I properly store drinking water at home? With the help of stories, songs and games, the children internalize what they have learned. And in the evening, they take their knowledge home with them as ambassadors. There, the younger siblings also adopt the new behaviors. Because like everywhere else in the world, the same applies here: The older children lead the way and the younger ones follow suit.
June: Prime Seating at the UN
After years of preparation, Switzerland is officially elected to the UN Security Council. Through Pascale Baeriswyl, it will take its seat at the "hot table" in New York for two years, beginning in January 2023. She will be in the front row when the world's wars and crises are negotiated. Almost exactly 20 years after Switzerland joined the UN, this election is considered a major milestone in Swiss foreign policy. Given the tense situation and the influence of the veto powers, Switzerland's room for maneuver remains narrowly limited. But with a little courage and creativity it could certainly succeed in bringing forgotten conflicts back to the fore and proposing new solutions. It is with great intention that the Swiss parliament has included the humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar and the fate of the Rohingya refugees – two areas in which Helvetas is also active – in the Federal Council's terms of reference for the Security Council.
July: Motivated Youth
With sufficient motivation and effective teaching methods, what is learned can be retained over the long term. This is evident in the pilot study that the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) is conducting with Helvetas at two state vocational schools in central Tanzania. Electrical engineering trainees are taught with the help of virtual reality: The trainees see the fuse box, the lamp and other devices up close through their glasses. They can learn and experiment with them anytime and anywhere – and in particular, they can practice potentially dangerous activities repeatedly before performing them in real life. These new possibilities, thanks to modern technology, are met with enthusiasm by the vast majority of teachers and young people. Their detailed feedback helps the exploration of how virtual reality can be used sensibly in vocational training.
August: Land Under Water
Pakistan experienced the heaviest rainfall it has seen in almost 30 years. Floods washed away entire villages. More than three million people are homeless. Children can no longer go to school, since more than 20,000 schools are unusable. More than 1,600 people lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands of farm animals drowned. 1.5 million houses were damaged and two million hectares of farmland flooded. Though these are frightening figures, they cannot show the suffering of each individual in this catastrophe. Helvetas is helping affected children, women and men by distributing food, hygiene kits, warm blankets and clothing. We’re installing water treatment plants and travelling to hard-to-reach areas with a medical team. In parallel with these emergency measures, the next steps are being prepared: In order to avoid famine, people will receive seeds. This will enable them to sow seeds as usual in September and to try to secure their harvests for next year as best they can.
September: Fair Chances Worldwide
"Before, my brothers brought home the food, but now I can do the same," Neuza Yacussa says proudly. The young woman from Mozambique was immediately intrigued when she heard about the Helvetas training program for carpenters. Neuza has always wanted to build things, and as a child she dreamed of becoming a civil engineer. Helvetas is providing an answer to the problem of high youth unemployment in Mozambique: In short training courses, young people like Neuza are preparing for the world of work in jobs that are in demand. After the training, the young people not only receive a diploma, but also support in finding paid work or taking the step into self-employment. Neuza found employment in a woodworking company after her short apprenticeship. After just one month, company leaders asked the now 18-year-old to become a trainer herself.
October: Negotiating Confidently
Perhaps a particularly rich harvest is the reason for this joyful glow. The notebook of Pongchi Souk, a tea picker and member of the Phounoi ethnic minority from the village of Nongkinaly in northern Laos, records the weight of her freshly harvested tea leaves. This determines the wage the 70-year-old receives for her hard work, which begins early every morning. On average, a tea picker gathers four to five kilograms of tea leaves in a day; on particularly good days, it can be as much as ten to 15 kilograms. The special organic green tea from Nongkinaly is in demand in Europe because of its high quality. Helvetas helps farmers like Pongchi to keep the quality of their tea high, even during the monsoon season, and to network with other tea farming families. Thanks to participating in a cooperative, these farmers’ voices carry more weight with buyers. As part of this confident group, Pongchi can demand a fair wage that does justice to her efforts.
November: Surviving Winter
Makariv municipality near Kiev was occupied by Russian forces, and many buildings were damaged by bombs. This includes Maria Koval's house in Andriivka, where she has lived since she was 19. Several family members still live here with her, including Maria's great-grandson that she helps care for. In order for the family to survive the winter, with its sometimes extreme sub-zero temperatures, her home must be winterized soon. This includes ensuring that Maria has running water. In Andriivka, 25 village houses with light to medium damage are being repaired and winterized with contributions of 1,600 USD per household. Helvetas supports the repair of houses damaged in the war, among other things, with "Cash for Repair:" People receive money and know-how, which they use to repair their houses and infrastructure (heaters, doors, windows, etc.) so that they are habitable in the upcoming winter.
December: Good Prospects
23-year-old Man Kumari from Jyamire in Nepal knows what it means to have no access to clean water: Getting up before dawn every day. Walking a long way to the water source. Waiting for the trickle of contaminated water to fill the jug. Climbing the steep slope to the village with 25 kilos on your back. And doing the same again a few hours later. Today, Man Kumari can watch her two children (4-year-old Kristina, pictured) drink water from the tap right next to their house. Clean water that no longer makes the children sick. Thanks to household water access, Man Kumari is now hopeful about the future: "I would love to continue my education. I always wanted to be a teacher. I think I could be a good teacher – to teach children properly so they become good members of society." A wish that is now within reach.